Breaking the recent trend, the forecast this week has thrown up the odd island of calm in amongst all the Atlantic lows, especially in the North-West. After last-minute planning in the bar and optimistic interpretations of weather and avalanche forecasts, I left Glenmore at 6am on Tuesday, headed for Beinn Eighe with Patrick and Julia. Seize the day and all that jazz.
Since Christmas it feels like I’ve just been hiding in the woods from the storms on the hills, taking shelter from wind, rain and snow on my bike. The road down Glen Torridon on a promising morning blows any pessimistic approaches to winter out of the water though. The shoulder of Liathach is a massive and imposing monolith to the north, and the sandstone terraces draw your eyes up to the snow-dusted summits.
We set out for Lawson, Ling and Glover’s route, a long grade II that sweeps the shoulder of Beinn Eighe’s north-western summit, Sail Mhor. The walk-in to Coire Mhic Fearchair was long and surprisingly warm with the sunshine on our backs. After what felt like forever we rounded the long corner of Sail Mhor and peered into the coire; plates of ice had been blown across the lochain and gathered on one side in a sheet of uneven brash.
We began climbing up the gully on consolidated but wet snow. There was a thin icy crust and rounded grains beneath, but the snowpack was thin and punctuated by rocks poking through the surface. Further up the snow improved and we broke out right, climbing some awkward turfy ground to reach the crest of the ridge and to take in the Torridon hills spread out, remote from one another, like pieces on a chessboard.
Squally showers set in for a while on the rock steps and pinnacles that lead us up the ridgeline. The climbing was relatively simple, but the exposure of the deep gullies on either side demanded some care and calm nerves. Switching constantly between one and two axes we moved quickly, and by the time the last pinnacle had given way to the summit, the showers and spindrift had stopped and the views had only gotten better. People say that a good day in Torridon is unforgettable – the ridge walk from Sail Mhor backed that up. Below us amongst the triple buttresses of the coire we could see a Glenmore Lodge MIC assessment group making their way up West Buttress. Beyond the ridge we looked out to Skye, the Inner Hebrides and the solitary peaks of Assynt and the far north.
The descent was a good chance to practise scree-skiing technique on the quartzite rubble, with the added bonus that our steps covered half the distance and sliding took care of the rest. Rejoining the path we retraced our steps from the morning into a descending sun, and reached the car in time to see the last of the light disappear from the mountainside. Hopefully there might be a few more of these days of decent weather on the way!